Sustained Beauty, Permanent Collection: American Museum of Ceramic Art

I first met Joan long before I thought about enrolling at Otis, at an artist reception held at the Product Design building in 2012. At the time I had just moved to LA and was taking advanced ceramics classes at UCLA over the summer. My teacher was Robert Miller, an Otis alumnus and Joan’s former student. As I have studied clay when I was 7-11 years old, it was incredible to work with clay again. I was inspired by Robert and Joan. After I met Joan, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in ceramics. I then enrolled at Otis. A year and a half later, I am excited that we will finally have a Ceramics Minor at Otis.

Detail of Sustained Beauty
In the 1950s Otis was known for its ceramics, especially through Peter Voulkos and Ken Price who revolutionized the ceramic world by not manufacturing functional products.

Unfortunately, the ceramic movement went into recession in the early 90s, and all of a sudden Otis became a conceptual art college, not having many “hands-on” projects related to clay. All of that started to change once Joan became the head of the Ceramics Department. It has definitely been a long run from the beginning until the realization of a Ceramics Minor at Otis.

Joan Takayama-Ogawa's ceramics are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, deYoung Museum Fine Arts in San Francisco, World Ceramic Exposition Foundation in Icheon, South Korea, Princessehof Leewarden National Keramiek Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Oakland Museum of California, Long Beach Museum of Art and American Museum of Ceramic Art. 

She has served as a Pasadena Design Commissioner and on the Board of Directors of the American Museum of Ceramic Art. She received her Bachelor of Arts at UCLA, Master of Arts at Standford University and a ceramic education at Otis.

In 2007, she received a Center of Cultural Innovation Investing in Arts Equipment Grant to purchase a large, new  front-loading energy efficient kiln.

3 Teabags exhibited at the Long Beach Museum of Art
When did you first get interested in ceramics and where do you get your inspiration?
Since the 15th Century in Tokoname, Japan, which is one of ancient kiln sites, my family has continuously worked in clay.  Clay is in my DNA.  When I was the Academic Dean and Faculty at Crossroads School, I took summer “fun” clay class and a gene popped.

Social, political, environmental, health and social injustice are the focus of my work.  If we stopped screwing up, I would not have any material to be angry or worried about.

What learning outcomes will the ceramics minor provide for students and when will it be effective?
The Contemporary Clay Minor opens in Fall 2015.  Learning Outcomes: Students will be competent in hand building, wheel throwing, slip casting, sculpture, function, firing, and glaze calculation.

The Tipping Point

What kind of conceptual classes will be offered to students? Will the students also learn to fire ceramics and mix glazes?
Conceptual Art has experienced a 50-year run and today’s students receive a thorough grounding in conceptual thinking and strategies as part of their training in Art History and LAS classes.  Applying what students learn in academic classes is where Contemporary Clay students must step up.  Technical skills such as firing and mixing glazes and the long process of clay are emphasized.  Without a concept, ceramics fall flat.

Tropical Island Teapot in the Smithsonian

Is the Otis Ceramics studio fully equipped to host a minor? What kind of equipment is available and did the school improve certain areas in order to accommodate this minor?
Just about every piece of equipment is new, energy efficient, and ready for a student to fully explore clay.  We do not high fire (cone 10) gas kilns because they are financially and environmentally unsustainable.  We have potter’s wheels, extruder, slab roller, computerized electric kilns (oxidation low and medium fire (cone 019-cone 5), glaze lab of raw materials, plaster, slip casting.  I am investigating a pug mill, so we can reconstitute clay.

Otis’ Provost Office, Business Office, Institutional Advancement, Technical Services, Facilities, Product Design, Fine Arts, and Ben Maltz Gallery have been extremely supportive.  Extraordinary patronage from the Boardman Family Foundation, Sue Keane, Huntington Library/San Marino League, and Friends of Clay are responsible for our steady acquisition of new state of the art equipment.

Cobalt Tea Tower

The Ceramics Department at Otis was very prominent in the 1950's and the 1980's to 1990's, but has decreased ever since. Do you think it was a shift in the market or did student's lose interest?
Otis closed ceramics when we moved to Westchester.  Making in general was not in vogue and conceptual art was the primary emphasis.  In the past few years, the Maker’s Movement, Do It Yourself (DYI), and a yearning to work one’s hands are in vogue.  (A reaction to working on the computer) The extreme and almost melt down of the American economy, during the Great Recession, added American’s interest in making and creating things.    Currently, 70-100 students each semester have a clay experience.  The Clay Studio is buzzing with activity.  An imposed discipline of clean up, taking finished work out of the studio, and a welcoming environment where no one is turned down if they want to work in clay, allows for a sane and creative environment.  I think students understand that strong clay work and mixed media in art or design is happening in the Clay Studio.

Fruitcake Fruit Flies
In your opinion, why do you think there has been an increasing interest in ceramics from the students in the last years? Is this the resurrection of an industrial Arts & Crafts movement?
Without a doubt, industrial design and crafts are having resurgence with super stars gaining national attention.  Johnny Ives of Apple recently called for Art Schools to teach making skills, and even called out clay specifically, instead of funding “cheap computers.”  Ives believes that good designers need to know their materials in order to design carefully thought out work.   In general, we become irritated when work is made or designed carelessly.  We appreciate attention to design details that make function easier.  My thoughts have radically changed over time.  Function takes far more creativity and carefully thought out approaches compared to the sculptural work that my own work calls for.

Most of all, material informed and driven art and design never disappeared and will continue.  
My Doctor's Medicine Bag

My teacher, Ralph Bacerra, used to tell us, “Know Your Materials.”    When we lose touch with materials, the temptation for some people is to rely on hand waving, and the dumbing down of the hands.  BUT, work must have a concept, a point, and include the viewer rather than convoluted verbiage that hides and becomes an exclusive conversation between a few people. 

How can we learn about minors? Are you available to talk and advise students personally?
Students can always contact me by email, through the Product Design or Fine Arts offices, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays nights in the Clay Studio.  Michelle Jaquis who is in charge of the scheduling of the Contemporary Clay Minor can sign a student up.

Joan working at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts

Personally, I think you are a great teacher and one of your greatest traits is your networking skills. This quality might not be associated with being a ceramicist, but please give us your tips on thriving as a young artist, making smart connections and building up our network.
If I did not have friends in clay, I would not have friends.  My social and networking life is around clay and its adjacent fields such as painting, wood, metal, and sculpture.  Mixed Media, with one part clay, requires me to meet people from all mediums and materials.  

Joan at Otis

Tips to Students:  Everyone is a friend.  Talk to everyone.  Make the person in front of you the most important person at that moment.  Do not let your mind drift when you are talking to someone.  Write down ideas, golden nuggets, and credit those who provided you the idea.  Be generous with sharing recognition.  No one does it alone.  Break the stereotypes of the artist who is narcissistic, self-involved, anti-social, and stupid. Too much self-promotion and not enough sharing of the credit is selfish. Be modest and humble outwardly, while your inner life is filled with grand thoughts.    Live a genuine life.  Develop a pure heart, clean insides, and love for human kind.  Beautiful, stirring, and genuinely emotional work comes from what is stirring inside waiting to come out.  Avoid making sentimental art, which is emotion, laced with sugar, when genuine work comes from observing specifically and thinking deeply.

Work every day.  Work all the time.  Go to bed the same time every night.  Wake up the same time every morning. 

Move quickly; jump on an idea and most of all follow up. 

Live to laugh.  Know that humor is a sign of agile intelligence.  If you haven’t smiled or chuckled for the past hour, you better cause humor to enter your life immediately.  Do not make fun of others because camels should not make fun of other’s humps. 

Hold the childish belief that everything you do and everything that happens to you is of general interest.   In other words, live an intentional life.

How does the future look like for a recently graduated Otis ceramicist?
Only focusing on ceramics upon graduating from Otis is NOT an educated artist or designer.  Working in clay for 30 years and becoming a master in clay comes with knowing a lot about everything you can learn.  Shallow people pigeon hole me as a person who sees all of her answers in clay, when actually I have taught English for over 20 years, read 2-3 hours every night on subjects not clay related, write in the morning 30-45 minutes a day a personal column I call “Morning Musings,” and listen to a lot of television, while working in the studio.

A life as a studio artist requires entrepreneurial and business skills.  Learning how to invest money is a MUST, while knowing how to save money and not overspend, is the responsibility of all.  Don’t forget to give back and donate to targeted causes.  Consider your entire human time line as a life of constant education and reeducation.

Lastly, follow your heart, but don’t suffer from heart disease.

Joan's Ospace

- Jasmin -


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